It was a normal day, when the news started to spread across our office. A co-worker, a friend, her daughter, only 8, gone. We gathered, a room full of mothers, in shock. How? Why? Each taking a deep breath as the story was repeated over and over again. I couldn’t find the tears as I stood there confused, staring out the window. I did what I do when the world starts to crumble, I held my breath. Because sometimes, not breathing makes things move slower. Every breath after the first means that I am still here but I really wish that time could freeze.
Just breathe, Melanie – those words echo loudly in my head from years ago, just breathe.
The following days were filled with funerals, sadness, stories, pain. I couldn’t bring myself to attend her services. I am petrified of funerals like a person is petrified to fly. I have the same level of panic. My heart races. I get dizzy. I feel as if the walls are caving in on me. I want to run, to flee, to scream. I can’t, just can’t do it. Images stay in my mind like a broken record that runs non stop. I absorb pain like bread sopping up liquid.
Just breathe. Just breathe.
I thought long and hard about what I could do. A necklace, a keepsake, something new, yet meaningful to bring some comfort. I know anniversaries are the worst and I wanted her to have something on the one month. During my deepest grief, I remember counting the days, first Wednesdays, then months, then years. Dates are the worst. The calendar becomes an enemy. Its only purpose is to provide bitter reminders.
I stopped at the card store to pick up a card for the “gift.” Each card threw me into a tizzy. There is no card that makes sense in this situation. There are not words that can express the anguish that I feel for her or that has the ability to bring comfort. I thought about all the cards that she probably had received. I wondered if she sometimes want to rip them into little pieces with their cliche sympathies. I was angry at the cards, angry that I had to buy one for her.
Just breathe, I have to tell myself. Just breathe.
Our visit was hard, a tad awkward. We aren’t friends like that. I wanted to say things, to ask questions but honestly I didn’t know what, or how to even start. The casual conversations were helpful but I really wanted to tell her to tell me about her. To breathe out her stories, their stories, so that they come to life again. Honestly, I was surprised at how composed she was. If I were her, I would probably be sitting in a pile of dirty laundry, trying to remember her smell. I definitely could not entertain visitors.
I wanted to say things that are the opposite of things that people say. I wanted to tell her that I know there is no better place than her mother’s arms. That even though I know heaven is beautiful, the only right place for a child is here on earth. I wanted to tell her that I don’t think that a mother ever recovers from losing her child. That she eventually might pick up and move on but there is never a “better” day because everyday without her will some how feel empty.
Those are not the right things one says in these situations but they are the ones that I feel in my heart. Maybe the ones she would want to hear. Maybe she needs someone just to be broken with her, instead of trying to put on a smile all the time. To walk beside her, praying, weeping, fighting, falling and getting back up again.
I also wanted to tell her that I think that she is an amazing mother. How I had always envied her devotion to her girls and all their activities. I wanted to tell her that this sucks and it is not right or fair.
But I didn’t. Because I was still trying just to breathe.
When all this happened, God gave me this verse to pray. (Isa 61:3) To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. I pray that when the time is right, that you will rise from the ashes, with a passion and joy that gives glory to our God and keeps the memory of your sweet child alive in our world. I pray that your grief would not take root but instead would becomes wings that give you freedom to love, to laugh and to weep whenever you need.
May you rise from the ashes, may you see light in the darkness, may you feel loved from afar, may you just relearn to breathe.